Sunday, 31 August 2014

School lunch

has not been to the Whirlwind's liking of late.
"Too many sprouts. They don't know how to cook them. The fish is horrible," she grumbled to me. The boarders have their main meal in the middle of the day.
The Whirlwind is not a fussy eater. She is interested in food and how to prepare it. She will try new things and will, with the rarest of exceptions, eat what is put in front of her. The sprouts must have been dire. The fish would not be wonderful. It is difficult to cook good fish for eighty girls and serve it all at the same time. They get crumbed baked fish I suspect. I did not inquire.
What, the Whirlwind wanted to know, did I eat for lunch at school?
It was a good deal less interesting than her lunches. There was no cooked lunch in state schools. There never has been. Children bring their own or they buy it from the school canteen.
My mother would make me a Vegemite (Marmite-like) sandwich and, if I was lucky, put in a small home-baked cake or biscuit. There would also be an apple, orange or banana. The sandwich would be wrapped in waxed paper and that paper had to last all week. I was expected to fold it and put it in my lunch box. If the fruit was an apple it would be cored and cut into four. The orange would be cut into four.
Very occasionally the Vegemite would be replaced by peanut paste (now called peanut butter) or tomato or a tiny bit of cheese. Once each term (we had three terms  back then) I was allowed to buy my lunch - if my end of term marks were good enough. As I usually got full marks for everything except writing this was not a problem. The Senior Cat would order me a hot pasty and a "cream" bun. The pasty was mostly filled with potato and onion and the bun's cream and jam were both artificial but, being a child, I thought they were wonderful. The same thing happened for my brother when he started school. 
Those glories did not last for long. When we moved back to the bush we lived in the house next to the school. There was no school canteen. Everyone brought their lunch to school.
My mother began teaching full time. She would leave the food for lunch on the kitchen table. We knew exactly what we were expected to do and we did it. If we did by chance not clear up or wash our plates we would be punished.  
The local children ate much the same sort of lunches as we did. The fruit was not always there and the sandwiches would be filled with mutton and, occasionally, kangaroo or wallaby. It would be moistened with tomato sauce.
The bread was always white. If my grandmothers came to stay we would get home-made bread. They could both do that. My paternal grandmother made wonderful brown bread. She would cut us a slice as an after-school snack and add a little salt and dripping. We would sit on the back step and eat it before doing our afternoon chores. I had to explain what dripping is to the Whirlwind. She was not impressed. We thought it was a treat - and no, we were not fat. We were, if anything, underweight.
Our diet would probably cause a modern dietician to turn pale but we survived with the help of the few vegetables the Senior Cat could grow in the difficult climate and red, sandy soil.
We went on to a dairying district and drank copious amounts of full cream milk. It came straight from the dairy and it was cheap.  Growing vegetables was less of a problem there. We ate more.
I wonder now how we would have liked the Whirlwind's school meals. Would we simply have grown tired of them?
I wouldn't want to eat a school pasty or one of those "cream" buns now - but I remember them with pleasure.

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